HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson wants to discover a midfield depth reminiscent of the Hawks' 2013-2015 three-peat as he ponders the start of the season without Tom Mitchell.
Clarkson conceded the Hawks had been too reliant on too few in recent years and was desperate to add secondary positions to his starting onballers while finding other midfield options.
SCRATCH MATCHES Who your club is playing
"We had to do the same with Sam Mitchell in the twilight of his career and move him to half-back," Clarkson told AFL.com.au.
"It was like, 'Mitch, it's not good for us,' we've got the same four or five blokes – (Brad) Sewell, (Luke) Hodge, (Shaun) Burgoyne, (Jordan) Lewis, Mitchell.
"All great midfielders, but that was the depth, it stayed at five. It was when we took it to eight or 10, when we started putting (Cyril) Rioli, (Luke) Breust and (Paul) Puopolo in there that our spread became better. That was born out of the 2012 loss to Sydney in the Grand Final.
"That's maybe been a criticism of us in the last two or three years, we haven't used that spread as much as we could."
With Tom Mitchell touch-and-go for the early rounds as he recovers from an off-season shoulder reconstruction, Clarkson said Finn Maginness presented an option but that the second-year prospect would need to add other strings to his bow.
"Physically he's ready, it's just about learning the game and the craft," Clarkson said.
"He's played all of his junior footy predominantly as an inside midfielder and he's not going to, right at this point, replace (James) Worpel or (Liam) Shiels or (Jaeger) O'Meara or Mitchell in that inside space.
"We need to teach Finn Maginness how can he play a little bit of wing, a little bit of half-back, a little bit of half-forward.
"But we also need to teach O'Meara and Mitchell to play other positions, too."
With Chad Wingard already used in the forward/midfield split, Clarkson nominated Breust, Dylan Moore and draftees Tyler Brockman and Seamus Mitchell as other considerations.
Mitchell appears unlikely to feature in any pre-season hitouts with the Hawks even open to throwing the 2018 Brownlow medallist into the season-opener against Essendon without any formal match practice.
AAMI COMMUNITY SERIES Check out the pre-season fixture
"We don't want to put him at any risk until he's right to go," Clarkson said.
"He'll be somewhere around round one. We've just got to determine whether he gets going for that first round of the season and how many trial games he actually needs.
"We've got the Dogs in a scrimmage (February 24) and then the Kangaroos (March 6) and he might not play any minutes in any of those games.
AFL FIXTURE Check it out here
"The challenge will be whether he can get any minutes for a Box Hill practice game in the week prior to round one.
"Or even if it gets to the stretch it's, 'Would you go into round one with him with no match practice at all, just some simulation we've done at training?'
"When you've got these high-quality players, can they at 70-80 per cent of their best still be good enough to make a contribution and win a game of footy?
"That's the probably the attitude we'll take with 'Mitch' as long as we get the clearance from the docs."
Collingwood recruit Tom Phillips will assume one vacant wing role after the departure of Isaac Smith and retirements of Tom Scully and Ricky Henderson.
It will leave the other slot to be used on a mix of the current midfield brigade, with Clarkson also raising Harry Morrison, Conor Nash, Daniel Howe, Will Day and draftee Connor Downie as other possibilities.
Forward Jack Gunston will be sidelined for the first month of the season after December back surgery, while Clarkson said the Hawks were awaiting the AFL investigation on Jon Patton.
Meanwhile, the Hawks also announced on Friday that new skipper Ben McEvoy, who Clarkson plans to used again between ruck and defence, had signed on until the end of 2022.